March 7 (UPI) -- Colombia has delayed efforts to recover items from the Spanish galleon San Jose, which sunk off the Colombian coast three centuries ago while carrying tons of gold.
Colombian President Ivan Duque temporarily stopped the process Thursday after the recovery process posed legal questions, such as whether the potential treasures can be used to pay for the expeditions, El Pais reported.
A lawsuit had already delayed the process of hiring a company to search and recover items from the sunken vessel that lies nearly 2,000 feet below the surface. Its cargo is believed to be intact because the ship sunk very quickly when the Spanish fleet was attacked by British forces in 1708 and left no time to salvage anything. Images captured recently by underwater robots show dozens of cannons that once protected the ship's cargo.
During the attack, one ship was burned by the Spanish to prevent its capture and another called the Santa Cruz surrendered. Nevertheless, a dozen Spanish ships arrived safely to Cartagena in what's known as the Battle of Barú.
The San Jose wreckage was found in 2015 and a Colombian court ruled last year that all contents of the Spanish ship are now the property of Bogota's government, as they now reside in Colombian waters.
At the time the San Jose was sunk on June 8, 1708, it was believed to be loaded with gold, silver and jewels that would today have a value of up to $17 billion. National Geographic last year put the value as high as $20 billion.
The ship is believed to hold a large cargo of gold it had picked up in Panama, which originated from Peru. At the time, cargo from South America destined for Spain had to transfer ships in Panama.